Help! I Hate To Exercise

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Many of us enjoy exercise, probably more just tolerate it, but have you ever known someone to detest it with every fiber of their being? Today, we have a question from a reader with precisely that issue. She hates exercise, and even feels near to tears when she has to do it. Moreover, she doesn’t get the “high” that many of us — even the ones who would rather be doing something else — enjoy after a workout. Well, she’s not alone. Regular exercise is a major stumbling block for many of us, so let’s take a look at some general strategies those that hate exercise can employ, as well as new ways to think about and approach exercise. I don’t have any end all, be all answers, but I do have some good ideas. First, the question:

I think I saw this concern addressed on your blog, but I am not sure. I hate to exercise. There is something in me that just makes me want to cry when I have to do it. I never feel good after I do it. What is the answer? Desperately wanting to exercise, but just can’t.

Thanks, Mary

Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. There is no one supplement to take. There’s no one exercise that works for everyone, everywhere, under any circumstance. That you’re “desperately wanting to exercise,” however, is a good start. Here are my suggestions for getting started and making it stick. Oh, and — most importantly — enjoying it!

Get a Workout Partner

More importantly than just finding someone who will workout with you, make a series of pacts with your buddy. First, if one person doesn’t show or backs out, the other person must also back out. Second, pledge to keep training until the other person stops. Research suggests that if someone else’s workout depends on yours, you will be more likely to exercise, so as not to disappoint or let down the other person. Drill sergeants have been doing essentially this for millennia — making the group suffer for the mistake of one in order to compel the one to shape up.

Tinker with Your Neural Reward System

Normally, the release of dopamine makes us feel good about completing a goal. That goal could be finishing a tough work assignment, winning a game of chess, or completing a hard workout. And the dopamine release, if it happens reliably enough, also helps us form (good and bad) habits. Is there something you love and enjoy every time you experience or obtain it? Maybe it’s an episode of your favorite TV show. Maybe it’s a long hot bath. Whatever it is, indulge yourself with a healthy reward every single time you work out. If you’ve ever trained a dog to do anything, this will be familiar. You might even feel a little silly, but don’t. We’re all animals, and we all respond to reward in similar ways. It’s just that some of us have already learned to associate exercise with neural reward. You probably haven’t, so you need to do a bit of formal entrainment. Eventually, you won’t need the reward anymore. Like a good dog no longer needs a treat in order to sit, stay, or come, you’ll come to associate exercise with its own inherent reward — especially after seeing the results.

Make Your Short Workouts Shorter and More Intense

I say this a lot, and for good reason: acute bouts of ultra-intense training is more effective and, unsurprisingly, more neurally rewarding. What does this mean, in real world terms? Increase the intensity and reduce the volume. Lift more weight, not more reps. Run (or bike, or crawl, or swim) as fast as you can for a short period of time, not pretty fast for a long period of time.

Just Move

You say you hate “exercise.” That’s fine; lots of people hate it. But what about movement in general? Is there any physical activity you can bear? Walking? Gardening? Hiking? Rock climbing? Playing catch? Frisbee? I refuse to believe that any and all types of physical undertaking make you miserable. If you can find the will to get up out of bed and walk to the kitchen for breakfast in the morning without crying, you can walk a little farther — say, around the block several times — as well. Don’t worry about calories or reps or weight or the next guy. Just move.

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